Father Andrew's Hot Body Gym

February 10, 2010

Lenten Fasts and Our Gym – For What Reason Do We Fast?

Filed under: real talk — Tags: , , , — frandrewrowell @ 2:33 pm

We quickly approach Lent, the 40-day season in the Church’s yearly recitation of the grand arc of God’s salvation story where we “go into the desert with Israel and with Jesus.” For 40 days, a period meant to echo Israel’s 40 years of desert living and Christ’s 40 days of desert temptation, we surrender many things that give us pleasure. We simplify our lives through abstention from some foods, some activities. We alter some of the normal patterns of our lives, praying more fervently, adding some additional time with the poor and downtrodden, remembering God’s command to us to find Him amongst the orphan, widow, alien and oppressed.

At the end of these forty days of reflection and contemplation, of abstention and preparation, we celebrate with loud shouts and the ringing of bells the “joy that comes in the morning” – the great Vigil of Easter where God’s salvation plan reaches its culmination, brought to dazzling light as we remember Christ’s resurrection from the dead. One of my favorite moments of every year is the eating of chocolate-covered strawberries and the drinking of a glass of champagne on Holy Saturday night/the wee hours of Easter Sunday morning. My tongue and my stomach get to tell my brain that joy has come, that the period of mourning and reflection has been cast aside! Easter becomes a full-body exercise, not just something I know in my brain or feel in my heart – my whole, unified self gets to join in the joy! The new light has dawned and the Church celebrates “Bright Week,” a week where NO FASTING is allowed AT ALL, because who in their right mind would fast when the Bridegroom in all His glory has come to feast with us?!

For most of the Church – both East and West – Lent is primarily practiced as a season of fasting. Accordingly, my Crossfit buddies are preparing to buckle down for Lent and get even more serious about their paleo/primal diets. In other words, they are going to do none of the regular “cheating” we all do. The chatter in the gym is that some are going from primal (roughly paleo + dairy) to full paleo by shedding dairy from their diets. Others have sworn that sugar will not pass their lips until Easter. These people are serious.

But are we being serious about the right things? For some of us, it’s hard to imagine becoming more serious about our diets. Some in our gym have commented that, in the quest for the “perfect” diet, food has become only fuel for the next lifting of the next weight. The pleasure that comes from food and drink has largely leaked out of some of our lives. This can’t be God’s plan for us. Indeed, the constant conversation we have about what we are or aren’t eating, the contempt we sometimes express over the lack of commitment some in the gym have to our espoused dietary strictures….all of it has become a bit obsessive and I keep wondering if we’ve left any conversation about the joy of food out of our conversation. Indeed, if we find no joy in food during the other 325 days of the year, what spiritual traction could possibly be gained by becoming marginally more miserable during Lent?

I’m worried. For one thing, I want us to be cautious about utilizing a holy season as the means to further worship the idol of “elite fitness and perfect diet.” This season is not about losing a few pounds or getting more sleep or reading more books and watching less media for the sake of the advantages that might accrue through such alterations to our normal patterns. It’s about quieting our hearts, shedding some distractions, reminding ourselves physically of the deep spiritual need we have for the dawning of redeemed history through the Resurrection.

For another thing, I’m worried that the joyous feast I’m planning for the gym on Easter Vigil night, the feast that is supposed to be joyous, is going to be a failure because we’ve forgotten how to find joy in our food! For that feast to be spiritually full, it cannot be a time for us to feel guilty because we find ourselves neglecting the idol of perfect diet that sits so prominently in our gym. I seem to remember Jesus turning 150 gallons of water into wine for a wedding…I hate to think about FAHBG folks standing alongside that celebration with our arms folded, calculating how much of that alcohol was going to convert to unhealthy carbs in our digestive tracks….I’d want us to join in the dancing joy of that wedding feast because surely the joy of the Christ’s presence outweighs the worries we have of body shape and image and supposed perfection.

I’m pondering writing a post discussing the potential spiritual benefit of having all of us add three Twinkies a day to our diet for Lent, such that we will only be allowed to return to Paleo when, in the Church year, Easter season dawns with all of its joy. That’d be a way to kick the idol of fitness and diet to the curb. Not sure how much theological traction I could get out of that since, to be clear, I think we ARE doing holy activities as we try to purify our bodies through better eating and the care for creation that may come through eating grass-fed beef and local vegetables. But we must be careful to not become Pharisees along the way, neglecting the joy of being in the midst of the One for whom all of this obedience is supposedly being done – being more in love with the rules than the One towards Whom the rules are supposed to be pointing our hearts.

Let me say this again so that we don’t miss it:

We need to care for our bodies by eating well and exercising for one purpose and one purpose only – so that we are better equipped to be the hands and feet of Christ in the world.

If we do it for any other reason, then we are merely worshipping our own physical form, caring for it for the sake of it, not the One who made it and redeemed it for Himself.

So here comes Lent. By all means, go crazy paleo….but do it to get ready for the revelation of the grandest chapter in God’s unrelenting plan to reconcile all things to Himself through Christ, not to make yourself more beautiful or more proud of your disciplined life. Bright Week better add a few pounds to our waistlines and we better not complain about it. I’m already stocking up the Cocoa Pebbles and whole milk.

October 15, 2009

Getting Stronger – physically and spiritually

Filed under: real talk — Tags: , , , , — frandrewrowell @ 9:48 pm

I’m supposed to be working on a sermon for Sunday right now, but I just got back from the soccer pitch and feel I must comment on a realization I had tonight.

I think I might be, after five short months of Crossfit and a major diet change, in the best shape of my life. And my life has been an active one for sure – full of a persistent obsession with pick-up basketball, a college career at Duke and the University of Glasgow where I was a competitive rower (which required a daily 3.5 mile cross country run and a half-stadium finisher in addition to the 5 am water workouts), and three years of competitive cycling at UVA during law school. Even during periods during which I could easily hop on my bike and crank out a century in a morning, I think was in a different, less all-encompassing kind of fitness than I’m in right now. Back then, I had that long, consistent, steady-state, zone 2ish/3ish, 7-hour-slog kind of fitness down pat. Now I’m quicker and stronger than I’ve ever been, at least in my adulthood, capable of sprinting with 16 year olds down a soccer pitch without much fuss, and still capable of managing lengthy rides on a bike in the woods and the road (and don’t get me started on how much better a mountain biker I am becoming as my core strengthens). That myth of the usefulness of a long, zone 2, tons-o’-base-miles workout seems like such foolishness now. I’m not doing long cardio work (this morning’s workout of 5-5-5-5-5 155lbs deadlifts/10 burpees between each set took a whopping 8:48) and yet my cardio performance is soaring. My core is solidifying – I can now do a legitimate handstand on the spot and 10 straight full-hang ring pull-ups, which I reckon a very small percentage of the population can do. That one measly muscle-up of which I dream by January is coming faster than I thought. Oh, and now I can pick up Mac, who’s a fatty.

Andrew and Mac

Andrew and Mac

I’m not writing all of this to brag. I’m just shocked at how fast it seems to be coming along. I arrived in Tallahassee to serve my first church (www.saint-peters.net) on September 1, 2008, a bit flabby and in a lot of L4/L5 back pain from a tough surgery in July of 2008.  Now I’m cleaning and jerking substantial weight, cranking out 100 pushups without too much of an effort, and generally more aware of my body and its growing strength than ever before. In five months!

I do believe one thing to be true – that it has been the diet change that has made the biggest difference. I’ve shed so much silly excess and added so much core muscle mainly by purging my diet of stupid sugar and carb calories and dedicating myself to meats, fruits and veggies. It is amazing what the body can do with the proper fuel with which to restore and build.

Putting on my priestly collar for a second, there’s a much deeper blessing emerging from all of this.  When I sit down before God’s Word in the morning, fresh off of a 6 am session of “Cindy” or “Grace” or “Fran,” a steaming cup of coffee beside me, dwelling in a temple with which I’ve been blessed that is becoming stronger and more poised – it does change my posture before the Word, both literally and spiritually. Maybe that sounds a bit odd, but we aren’t just souls hanging around in useless shells for 80-odd years waiting for the parousia. Rather, we are embodied souls. It is this vessel that I’ve been given. It is within this vessel that I live out a life that is the crucible wherein I sort out my salvation. I’m learning all over again, from the ground up, that I am not trapped in a shell of flesh waiting for something better, but I’m rather blessed with one in which to live for and love God now. I’m not saying that my body doesn’t groan for redemption along with the rest of creation. But I’m doing what I can with that which is clearly flawed, which seems to me to be the proper way to live out the imago Dei within me. And here’s the gift – when my body is rested and healthy and well-fed and growing in strength and not mentally deadened by corn syrup and two pounds of bread, there’s a freshness to God’s Word, there’s a mental sharpness that makes the gift of God’s Word that much more vivid. Do the rest of you feel an intellectual and spiritual acuteness emerging along with those triceps?

The Core Team (the Ellers, the Vandys and me) have sat around my dining room table often these last few months and talked long into the night about how we hope to grow toward the perfection of our spiritual postures before the Lord even as our shoulders round, our backs straighten out, and our quads swell. I think it might be happening by God’s grace. I’d encourage us to pay some attention to it – to ask if we aren’t being transformed by the renewing of our bodies, these bodies which will be at the eschaton remade and reformed into the image of our Redeemer.  I think we are – I think that in a state of strength and health, when creation-care is directed toward our own human form,  our minds and our hearts become less encumbered. We become more readily able to stand boldly and frankly before the Lord (who is, notably, embodied forever) whose call on us, whose Word to us, is sharper than a sword and more gracious than we ever deserve.

Ok, back to a sermon….


Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.